Saturday, April 15, 2006

All the Rage

28 DAYS LATER… (2002)

Unlike the loping creatures in the films of George A. Romero, the ‘infected’ of 28 DAYS LATER… are a blur. Possessing a body-snatcher like screech, they are ravenous predators, who kill for no reason but to spread disease. Their fast-moving and savage nature is similar to the zombies portrayed in Umberto Lenzi’s delirious Italian film NIGHTMARE CITY.

DIRECTED by Danny Boyle and written by novelist Alex Garland, 28 DAYS LATER… is a release of definite indie-film sensibility, a piece of punk-rock movie making that is quintessentially British, sneeringly aggressive, but hauntingly poetic. Shot on DV, this virus/post-Apocalyptic hybrid sees animal rights activists release a chimpanzee which carries an engineered plague, ‘Rage’. 28 days later, comatose motorbike courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes in an abandoned London hospital and discovers the city empty but for vicious bands of ‘infected’, whose bite or blood spray spreads the disease, and a few toughened survivors. After hearing a radio broadcast professing to have the answer to the plague, Jim sets out with hardboiled pharmacist Selina (Naomie Harris), taxi driver Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his teenage daughter Hannah (Megan Burns), to travel North. Eventually finding the source of the signal, a refuge run by Major West (Christopher Eccleston) in a requisitioned country house, Jim and Selina discover that merely surviving isn’t enough.

Once outside of London the film’s palette changes, mixing the enduring features of England – a ruined abbey, a 15th century cottage, and the stately home - with scenes of claustrophobic horror traditionally associated with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). Murphy’s performance is charming and oddly ethereal, outstanding in the violent finale, while Harris treads an instinctive line between tough posturing and tender protectiveness. Eccleston, heading the gun-toting shreds of devastated authority, swallows his borderline-psychotic role with ease, while Gleeson and Burns’ father/daughter relationship lends ballast. Shooting in digital video suitably captures a coldly clinical style, picking up every drop of rain and eruption of blood. The fast editing and tight framing add a raw brutality to the spasmodic violence, an adrenalised energy which creates particularly strong effects when showing the jarring, slashing movements of ‘infected’, and in the scene where Selina dispatches newly-infected Mark (Noah Huntley) with a machete.

Cillian Murphy wakes up to find London an empty
maze of wreckage and useless landmarks.

The power of the film is not that it hasn’t been done before, but that it hasn’t been done recently. Floating in the mind of 28 DAYS LATER… are lasting cultural artefacts, thoughtful re-imaginings of familiar themes and images explored in British science fiction. Waking in a deserted hospital (The Day of the Triffids (1951)), a sequence hinging on a flood of rats (James Herbert), a distrust of laboratories (DOOM WATCH (1970-72)), and the question of if everyone is dead, what’s the point in living (THE SURVIVORS (1975-77)), all represent a throwback to fantasy formulae of yore. Furthermore, the depopulated London strikes a chord with an embedded psyche by everything from The War of the Worlds (1898) to DOCTOR WHO - THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH (1964). Consequently, the film acts as a spiritual successor to these streams, but is given a tense post-millennial edge by Boyle’s stripped-down visual aesthetic.

Containing an evocative soundtrack of both peace and rock-guitar fury - a dichotomy that is fitting for a film obsessed with anger and the quest for calm - 28 DAYS LATER… also taps into millennial fears about chemical warfare and viral outbreaks. Released at the onset of the SARS panic, it is also a reflection of our increasingly stressful social interactions, employing the ‘infected’ as a metaphor for the breakdown of our behaviour towards one another. The film suggests that anger has become the defining emotional response in capitalist societies; ‘Rage’ is not an abstract monster, or based on the usual factors that cause violence such as race, religion or gender. Rather, it is a social condition that has no defining boundaries, a new kind of intolerance that is in all of us.